⪧ We left our life in New York City to make a new one in Provence ⪦

October 16, 2017

Les Voiles de Saint Tropez

Saint Tropez is where I finally fell in love with France. I was never a natural francophile, but two summers spent there changed the way I felt about the French. Where I first learned to 'profiter', we went back for Les Voiles: Xavier and his dad, who loves sailing and these older sailboats (les voiles de tradition). Saint Tropez was throwing around its finest light - spoiling all the visiting boats.

I had been with Xavier for years and spent 3 of them in Paris, but it was when I ate a Tarte Tropèzienne with some colleagues (I worked there for a couple of summers in 2010 and 2011) that I had a cultural breakthrough in my relationship with the French. A good Tarte Tropèzienne is delight - two layers of cake (de brioche) divorced by a layer of cream (crème pâtissière). And it is rather large (meaning tall) for a tart. So, my strategy was pragmatic, just eat the two halves separately - each with a bit of the cream. My colleague interrupted me, gasping: "No, Emilie, you mustn't eat the tarte that way!"

Here we go again, I thought. (The French had schooled me heavily on the way to do things. From peeling a potato, to wearing a scarf, getting on my bike or eating a square of chocolate, I had been given some serious advice. All of which, up to this point, had left me feeling constrained).

But no. This French person, for the first time in my mingling with the French, offered a real, valid reason (it is also possible I hadn't been listening) why there is only one method to eat a tarte tropézienne. She explained that the way to eat the tart (plunging the fork vertical style, through the two layers and the cream, all at the same time - never separating them) was not created to bother me. Rather, rules like this were made to increase pleasure. The thing itself was conceived of in this way. In fact, to eat a tarte tropézienne differently is to no longer eat a tarte tropézienne.

It is for this reason that at another dinner in St. Tropez, a lovely French woman proclaimed, as she spoke about Americans, "There are many things they haven't understood. They are capable of serving their wine in a plastic glass! 50% of the appreciation is in the glass." It is the smallest morcels of life, when put in the right light or focused on properly, that deliver the greatest satisfaction. And so, after years of misunderstanding the French, I exhaled a big puff of air "ha!" And I got it.

Since then, I have been focusing on the art of 'profiter' as a sort of personal mission. And I am learning a lot from the French.

So we were back and downright indulged by the place and the sight of it all. Back to profiter.

We rented a small boat to go out on the water and mingle with the mammoth sailboats. We especially loved being up against the massive wooden yachts from the 20s and 30s and the crashing waves of the sea. Heavy zephyr making the boats plunge ahead.

We spent the time sous le soleil, strolling along la ponche, between the cantaloupe walls. I got up early and ran a portion of the Sentier du Littoral one morning. The place has the same effect on me: my chest rises and falls differently - in gasps.

October 4, 2017

Gorges du Verdon

I had long been fascinated by the water of the Gorges du Verdon, which is a series of deep river canyons here in Provence. The gorges are on the border of two departments within the Provence-Alpes-Côtes d'Azur region (the Var and the Alpes-de-Hautes-Provence departments). Despite being far from the Côte d'Azur the waters are as spectacular as the famous Mediterranean coast, green-blue from glacial sources and the minerals suspended in the water. We headed to kayak a portion of the Gorges (from Montpezat to the dam entry of the Lac de Saint Croix) in August. I was obsessed with getting in the water, but most surprising was the water temperature. At its coldest point on our kayak trip, the water was 4 degrees celsius. Water that cold is really dangerous and the kayak rental folks actually prohibit their clients from getting in. It felt knife-like when I dipped my legs in for just a flash. Unreal turquoise water up against limestone walls, plants dripping from them in jungle-fashion. I want to go back to kayak the rest.

September 30, 2017

Our bug collection

We are all quite proud of our bug collection. To me, it is the symbol of why we came here. I've wanted to build a world for the girls were they spend a lot of time examining the smallest details of nature. It's taking its effect. Whenever we come upon a new variety of bug they squeal happily. Ingredients for a good bug collection: extra time + spending it in a wild place. We're not in NYC anymore

September 27, 2017

Three girls in the olive trees

September in Provence - olives are growing plump and we vacillate between putting on sweaters and then switching them out for swimsuits and I love the mix. I caught the three girls out in the olive trees, climbing and swinging on their low branches. Romy's little limbs trailing below her sisters' and Marguerite's long like branches themselves. These are really good times between them. We often find the girls all together living out some elaborate story they've created. Rich characters, drama and worlds all their own.

September 24, 2017

Provence Summer

Summer...white dresses on girls who smell like sun. Sun sheets too. Pure luxury. Day after day summer blinked by and I was in a trance. Didn't take a moment to sit and write or reflect. Just soaked it in and took some pictures.

The beginning of September was ‘La Rentrée’ - the famous moment in France everyone references all summer…not just back to school, but back to life (in a country where everyone takes a proper, often full-month break). Leading up to la rentrée the summer was full of guests with a stint in the USA.

House totally full…we even farmed Colette out at some point for a sleepover so her bed could be occupied. To the gills. We had a few famous members of the extended Joly family to stay - with their flair for story-telling and holding the spotlight around a table. Xavier’s Aunt Gaby came, belly full of laughter and stories from her wild house in the Alpes-de-Haute Provence above Nice. She lives feral…currently fighting off a family of boars who have taken a liking to her hilltop property. A mama boar and baby, dangerous stuff. Uncle Rémi, who came with courgettes from his garden, sautéed them perfectly with garlic, olive oil and pepper. I still have the sweetness in my mouth when I think of them. Xavier’s sister Marie and her family…endless art projects and handling nature, observing the sky, the moon, the stars with the girls. Outings around Provence and summer baths in the pool. Cooking, cooking, cooking - every meal enjoyed outside, long affairs. And good friends from New York and past lives. Such a treat to reunite with beloved people. Chris, my favorite travel companion and inimitable friend. Meredith, Jordan and little tow-headed Lars, finest friends from New York and beyond.

Marie and Louise

Pinecone mobile project with Aunt Marie

Outdoor painting on oversize canvases

Louise with a good book always in hand

Olives getting plump

Laurier in full bloom

Colette by the pool

Family poker with the ultimate bluffer: Mr. X

Cousin games

With Chris at a long, drawn-out Provence lunch in the shade

Jordan, enchanting all the children

Meredith, making me howl with laughter. Here, we were on a special tour of a near-by château and I had to contain it to a giggle-whisper laugh.

Lars-y boy, charm charm charm

Sister training

Taking a break

I’ve learned a lot about food in France, of course. Goes without saying. I always come back to the notion of “profiter.” The skill of, the ability to be, still and enjoy. Seems simple, but it is not. To sit properly with everyone involved and use all five senses to focus on what is there in front of you - together. And not start or finish out of synch. It is highly cultural. These small rituals - obvious things like never filling one’s own glass before everyone else is considered; ceremoniously composing plates and sitting to chat for just a bit longer before anyone picks up a fork or knife; locking eyes to the clang of a glass - and never crossing; and the famous Joly ‘banc’ - a congratulatory clapping ritual - everyone at the table knows the cadence and performs together to thank the chef or to congratulate a child on an accomplishment or to celebrate the host. All of this starts so early. At the girls' school cantine, the children are served and then they wait until every other child has been served to begin.

School! Marguerite has a big year - she has begun ‘Collège’ (middle school) - sixième. She is so tall, she fits the part. Doesn’t look like a primary school kid any longer. She is Paris chic, she can’t help herself. She got a lot of her dad, it keeps unfolding every weekend she is here with us. The time is unflagging. A terrifying and beautiful thing to witness.

This summer Marguerite attended a local circus school...you can guess the rest

Colette, in grande section à la maternelle, waltzed into her classroom and took control. She knew the kids; the teacher already knew her. No surprises there. She is a force of nature.

Romy began ‘real school!’ Petite section à la maternelle. She kept saying, “Do I get to go to Colette’s school?” Now we insist it is her school too. She proudly walked into her classroom and sat down where a piece of paper and some crayons were displayed. Began drawing, looked up at us and said goodbye. All around was carnage. Most three year olds were sobbing and begging their parents not to leave them. Her teacher came over and said that they would find Colette if Romy got sad during the day (Colette is famous at that little school). The charm of a small town.

Apparently, Colette protects Romy outside in the play area.(?!) Some kid walked up to Romy the first day and took a bunch of her hair in his hands and started pulling. Colette stomped over and grabbed his wrist and instructed “Laches!!!!” She imitated the face she was making when it happened for me later when she told me about it; it was really intense. Big Colette eyeballs. Romy nodded in grateful recognition as Colette told the tale.

A lavender harvest! Romy was delighted to pitch in and carry the baskets. Sachets sachets sachets - lavender in every room and closet

Gathering the olives (a bit too early), but in beautiful light

Constantly gathering

Morning ritual - feeding Mr. and Mrs. Cat

Every day is a tea party - gravel is the main course. The petals soften it though

Morning thoughts - avec doudou

Romy face, Romy hair

My jasmine is at the halfway mark

Poor baby bird

Summer play dates with amoureux Esteban - the love continues

Local abbey exploration. Little girls in big places

Flower child Colette

Funeral for a big bird. The girls were so thoughtful - placing him on a nice pillow, with a kitchen dish cloth for a final blanket (!)

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